Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Culture and the Bush Years

Blogging has been light. I've been busy promoting Mitch Daniels, here, and blogging at the Indian National Interest, here. I'll try to keep this place going too, though, for more whimsy stuff.

Now, I'm a huge fan of TV--I think we're in a Golden Age of television, with a whole slew of great dramas and sitcoms. If you look at the complexity or originality of shows in any other decade, even the 90s, I think you'll find that the average show in the last decade is substantially better, while the best shows are pretty amazing today and beat just about anything put out before.

A lot of this has to do with viewing styles. Now that people buy DVDs, show makers can expect their audiences to be paying attention, and so can put out something beyond the "monster a week" staples. The talent working on TV shows, I suspect, got a lot better, and overall it seems people have a much better grasp of the dynamics and possibilities TV gives you.

All this in mind, Newsweek had a bit a while ago about major television series in the Bush years. The mention some good shows, but miss out the absolute best representation of the Bush years ever: Arrested Development.

What better way to capture the neuroses and fixations of the last years then by looking at a dysfunctional family, in which the son desperately tries to fix a failing company? Add the facts that the father sold houses to Saddam Hussein, and that they are in the middle of the housing bubble in California.

And then there are all of the little touches, which get at every tiny bit of this decade. Michael Cera with his awkwardness, the overall meta flair, corporate fraud, insider trading, the "Mission Accomplished" banner, Abu Ghraib, the evangelicals, etc etc.

Now, you can say this just means that the show is rather topical. But beyond depicting events, it gets a good chunk of the mood and flavor of the nought years--the unbridled consumerism, general loss of faith in authority, failing institutions, and institutionalized bizarreness. The very absurdity of the show highlights how odd this decade was, when "truthy" could be a word, cell phones became ubiquitous, and anxieties and unresolved conflicts dominated.

Of course, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia also lays some claim to the title.


Anonymous said...

You've not been busy enough promoting Mitch Daniels.

Anonymous said...

Starved > It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Anonymous said...

you think it's the golden age because your taste in television is terrible. if you control for your positive valuing of crappy tv shows (plot of every House episode-- "IT'S NOT LUPUS") you'll find we are just as well off.